Firebrand  - Gillian Philip It's been a while since I've come across such a difficult book to write about. Part of the issue involves the subject matter, themes, and ideas in Firebrand which all seem at variance with each other. This in turn gives me mixed feelings about the novel, because I struggle to even pin it down.

For example, at once it has the features of a historical fiction and yet also major elements of fantasy, specifically those pertaining to Celtic mythology. A big chunk of the book takes place in the Middle Ages, at the height of moral panic and mass hysteria over the devil and fear of witches. Unbeknownst to the humans, however, another world exists beyond the Veil, home to a race of beautiful immortals called the Sithe.

One of these beings is sixteen-year-old Seth, sent away from home by his insane mother Lilith who is adviser to the even more insane Sithe queen Kate. Seth grew up under the care of his father as a result, and became close to his older half-brother Conal. So when Conal is exiled to the other side of the Veil after a tiff with Kate, Seth follows voluntarily. The siblings are then forced to live amongst the mortals, attempting to hide their differences and Sithe powers in an atmosphere of danger, paranoia and superstition.

The book opens with a scene that tells the reader right away that the two of them have already failed. Caught up in a witch-hunt, Conal has been captured and is headed for the stake to be burned. I have to say it felt strange to have the climax of the novel presented to you in its first several pages, but it's also quite effective. Seth is left with not many choices, and you are left wondering what he might do and how the brothers got into this mess in the first place. The rest of the book tells that story.

It's entirely possible this is what made Firebrand feel so disjointed for me. At the same time, I also feel like there's not enough context given throughout the novel, certain sections giving me that strange sense I'm missing out on huge chunks of the story even though I know I'm not. It feels like there's an expectation for me to know everything that's happening around these characters, and even though Seth is the narrator, I often have trouble following his train of thought as he moves from action to action. It's like we're not always there with him in his head, perceiving or understanding things the same way he does.

Also, despite the ages of the main characters and the particular themes in this novel, I would hesitate to really categorize this book as Young Adult. This is just another one of those aforementioned contradictions I spoke of, because despite the nature of the marketing material and blurbs I see covering the dust jacket of my hardcover, it just doesn't read like YA. I can't really put my finger on why, as I wouldn't say it's inappropriate for the young adult audience either. I suspect the immortality of the Sithe characters may have something to do with it, as I see a stark difference between them and typical YA protagonists when it comes to their attitudes, way of life, and beliefs.

Whatever it is, somehow I just don't feel Firebrand fits the mold. For better or worse, I also think that about many other aspects of this novel. It was certainly a bit different, and the positive thing is I didn't dislike it -- in fact, I enjoyed reading this, but I don't think I can say I really loved it either. I think if its story and themes were more cogent, my thoughts and opinions on this book might have ended up less ambiguous.